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Children’s Mental Health

“A system of care is a spectrum of effective, community-based services and supports for children and youth with or at risk for mental health or other challenges and their families, that is organized into a coordinated network, builds meaningful partnerships with families and youth, and addresses their cultural and linguistic needs, in order to help them to function better at home, in school, in the community, and throughout life.” – Updating the System of Care Concept and Philosophy, Beth A. Stroul, ME; Gary M. Blau, PhD; and Robert Friedman, PhD (2010, p.6)

NICWA’s work in children’s mental health helps tribes develop effective service systems and build a skilled, informed, and well-prepared workforce that can expand and sustain community-based systems of care across the United States for the benefit of children and youth with behavioral health challenges and their families.

For over two decades, the Child Mental Health Initiative, directed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), has provided significant support to tribal communities interested in developing systems of care (SOC) for children’s mental health.

Systems of care are:

  1. Family driven and youth guided, with the strengths and needs of the child and family determining the types and mix of services and supports provided
  2. Community based, with the locus of services, as well as system management, resting within a supportive, adaptive infrastructure of structures, processes, and relationships at the community level
  3. Culturally and linguistically competent, with agencies, programs, and services that reflect the cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic differences of the populations they serve to facilitate access to and utilization of appropriate services and supports

Through a federal contract, NICWA provides tribal system of care grantees with technical assistance (TA) tailored to their communities’ needs. Each year we visit the tribal grantees and provide assistance on a host of issues from building wraparound services and youth engagement to capacity building for sustainability and partnering with tribal governments.

Our TA:

  • Is grounded in real world examples and concrete strategies
  • Is tied to cross-cutting systems issues and reforms underway in states, tribes, territories, counties, and cities
  • Is connected to initiatives funded through other grant mechanisms, including through other federal agencies
  • Is focused on specific design and operational issues
  • Encourages and supports family and youth partnerships and leadership, as well as cultural and linguistic competence
  • Maintains an overarching strategy to embed system of care practices into mainstream delivery systems as a fundamental strategic approach to sustainability and expansion

Projects & Partners

Systems of Care

NICWA has actively partnered with SAMHSA in the SOC movement and has served as a technical assistance contractor for tribal SOCs since 1994. SAMHSA supports the Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, which leads the national TA center for systems of care. NICWA subcontracts with the Institute to provide TA to tribal SOCs. The National Technical Assistance Network for Children’s Behavioral Health (TA Network) operates the National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health (NTTAC), funded by SAMHSA, Child, Adolescent and Family Branch, to provide training and TA to states, tribes, territories, and communities funded by the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program (“system of care grantees”), as well as jurisdictions and entities without SOC grants, including youth and family leadership and organizations.

Led by the Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work, the TA Network Partner Organizations for NTTAC includes:

  • Case Western Reserve University, Center for Innovative Practices
  • The Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc.
  • The Family-Run Executive Director Leadership Association
  • Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development Center
  • Human Service Collaborative
  • Management & Training Innovations
  • The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
  • Tufts Medical Center
  • Policy Research Associates
  • National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice
  • Portland State University; co-host of the National Wraparound Initiative (NWI) and National Wraparound Implementation Center (NWIC), and home to Pathways to Positive Futures and the Early Assessment and Support Alliance
  • The University of South Florida, College of Community and Behavioral Science, Department of Child and Family Studies
  • The University of Washington; co-host of NWI and NWIC and home to the Wraparound Evaluation and Research Team and Evidence-Based Practice Institute; School Mental Health Assessment, Research, and Training Center
  • Youth M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience) National

System of Care Grantees

Tribal SOCs represent a diverse cross-section of tribal communities, urban Indian organizations, and tribal-state partnerships. Currently, NICWA provides TA to:

Alaska: Tanana Chiefs Conference, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
Arizona: Pascua Yaqui Tribe
California: Tule River Indian Reservation, Yurok Tribe
Montana: Montana Office of Public Instruction
Michigan: Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority
Nebraska: Santee Sioux Nation
New Mexico: Mescalero Apache Tribal Council
Oklahoma: Cherokee Nation
South Dakota: Sinte Gleska University
Washington: Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Lummi Nation

Project LAUNCH

NICWA participates in the SAMHSA’s Project LAUNCH, which supports children in reaching social, emotional, behavioral, physical, and cognitive milestones because healthy growth in each of these areas builds the foundation for children to thrive in school and beyond. The purpose of Project LAUNCH (Linking Actions for Unmet Needs in Children’s Health) is to promote the wellness of young children ages birth to eight. The long-term goal of Project LAUNCH is to ensure that all children enter school ready to learn and able to succeed. Project LAUNCH seeks to improve coordination across child-serving systems, build infrastructure, and increase access to high-quality prevention and wellness promotion services for children and their families.

Policy & Advocacy

For over 20 years, NICWA has supported efforts to increase federal funding to reform children’s mental health services. This has included increasing funds to help tribal and urban Indian communities establish culturally specific children’s mental health programs. In addition, NICWA has been a leader in assisting tribes in developing intergovernmental agreements with states to access children’s mental health services and improve federal policies to support states and tribes as they work to provide culturally appropriate mental health services. NICWA advocates for significant tribal inclusion in Systems of Care, and previously, the Circles of Care grant program. To date, nearly 100 tribal grantees have benefited from SOC funding.

Research & Resources